ALIA SNGG  Public Library Q&A with Jane Cowell Recap post has arrived!

ALIA Students and New Graduates Group had a FREE ALIA SNGG Public Library Q&A Zoom Event with ALIA Board President Jane Cowell (she/her). Jane is also the CEO,  Yarra Plenty Regional Library Service working with the Executive Leadership Team. Jane is an advocate for libraries and library professionals.


The Public Library Q&A was hosted by:

Rhodora Spring (she/her) ALIA SNGG National Secretary | ALIA SNGG Social Media Coordinator X, ALIA Students & New Graduates Group

Emily Wilson (she/her) ALIA Regional Enagement Manager, Australian Library and Information Association


The Public Library Q&A was divided into 4 parts:

  • Part 1: The Selection Process
  • Part 2:  Experience & Skills
  • Part 3: Trends
  • Part 4: Your Public Library Questions

Here are Jane’s answers to our Public Library questions.

Part 1: Selection Process:
Q1: What does the selection process look like in a Public Library?

What advice do you have for students & graduates who feel Public Libraries are not recognising their skills, volunteering and work experience during the selection process for public library jobs?

The Selection Process for applying for Public Library jobs are the same as councils. You need to remember you are applying for a library position that is a part of a Local Government  Area (LGAs).

A Public Library will have a Selection Criteria & Position Description.

You must read the selection critera fully to see what the Public Library requires when applying for the job. Eg. Who are you addressing your Cover Letter to? What Key Selection Criteria questions you need to answer? How your Cover Letter, Resume/CV and Key selection Criteria questions need to submited Eg. Word doc or PDF. The date/time yor must return your application.

  • Recruiters and library services are interested in people who are still learning, willing to try things and fail
  • Some local libraries will provide questions in advance. You can ask for the interview questions to be sent to you in advance.

    Q1b: What would you do is something went wrong with technology?

    • You find an alternative mode of technology Eg. In the case of Zoom you can download the Zoom app on your phone or use the web version.
    • Don’t panic. Continue on your new device.
    • Can use as an example if you have a technology question in interview.

    Q2: What advice would you give to students & graduates who feel public libraies are not acknowleding their volunteering, education, skills and work experience?

    • You must Map your skills to a Public Library Setting.
    • Eg. Retail Experience that is Customer Service Skills/Experience
    • You have dealt with a difficult customer in a retail experience
      You don’t say while I haven’t worked in public libraries experience. What you do say is my Customer Service Experience includes de-esculating difficult customers or I’ve had experience in de-esculating difficult customer situations. And here is an example.
    • Map your  volunteering to the Public Library Section. You may have volunteered in a aged care, scouts group or other volunteer association/group.   Then you have customer service experience,  experience dealing with a particular audience, developing events & activities for an audience and managing an audience through to the end of an event/activity.  You can’t just say I’ve volunteered here and have this skill. What does this skill mean in a Public Library Setting?

    Q3: Will I receive an email with feedback from public libraries if I have not been successful at the interview?

    • This will depend on the local government. Public Libraries are not doing this on their own – they are working with local governments.
    • If you got to an interview and want feedback, say it in the interview that you want feedback Eg. That you really would appreciate feedback About the Interview Process and Selection Process. Could you book a time for feeback?
    • If you didn’t get the job you will not get an email if you have not been shortlisted. Due to the level of applications for entry level roles you will not get feedback.
    • Recommendation: Ring the contact number and talk about the role as they will remember your name. Plan your call to ask Eg. Is there anyone in the role, what skills they are looking for, are their part-time opportunities for additional shifts.
    • Ask questions about:The location, size of the team, how busy they are and events they run. Eg. StoryTimes 5 days a week
    • Helps you frame your selection criteria to what they wantand will lift your application higher than others.


    Part 2: Experience & Skills:

    Q4: Are their any soft skills specically that Public Library staff need to be good at the job?

    • You need to like people as you hae to manage the public.
    • You need to feel resilient, feel confident in a situation with the public, respectful and calm to be able to dee-esculate a situation.
    • How do you proove that? Done some speaking, retail experience or volunteering  ALIA Homelessness Training that helps you de-esculate situations
    • Able to learn and confident to help others.
    • Need Tech skills but don’t need to know how to do everything.  You need to YouTube tutorials & Google it so you can assist the person.
    • Be resilient – some families you work with may have significant issues,
    • Be able to distance yourself so it does not bleed into your home life.
    • Think about how you keep your wellbeing and stress levels on check.
    • Smile & find humour in difficult situations.


    Q5 Do Public Libraries acknowledge professional membership in the Australian Library and Information Assocation (ALIA) and other GLAMR (Gallery, Library, Archive, Museum, Records)  assciations ?

    • Membership with ALIA and experience is their for as a request for professional work.
    • An entry-level role may not have the ALIA requirement but it would be desired to look for a library technician or librarian in those positions.

    Q6: If I am at a Public Library as a student or graduate can I ask a Public Library for practicum placement availabilities or extra volunteering experience?

    Practicium Placements usually come from your education organisation and is a formal process. Because you need to have a supervisor. To make sure the public library is preprepared to give you that support & sign off on skills you want to learn.

    • Most Public Libraries would welcome this. But yoou have to respect the formal process Eg. Insurance forms, work cover and forms to sign by your organisation & library

    Volunteering: Is a formal process

    • Need a Working With Children Check and Police Check
    • You can ask to Volunteer for a specific need – assist with tech help session for a set period Eg.offer to learn cataloguing or organisation skills learned from your LIS course.
    • General volunteering not there as you can’t replace paid staff
    • Chat to any branch manager about what they are looking for and of use & put the volunteer offer together.

    Part 3: Trends

    Q7: What Public Library trends should we keep an eye on?

    • AI, Chat GPT – to help people use this ethically
    • Thinking about Media Literacy.  Espicially around scams. Older Australians are the largest group who fall for scams.
    • Knowing about the latest iPhone, Samsumg & Sony device and aspects about them – you don’t need to know how to use them by heart. By have a go at using them. Most popular question are around technology and how to use a device.
    • Public Libraries are about #literacy and #reading. Helping parents know the importance of reading to their children to assist them with early education.
    • Pay attention the publishing industry
    • Jane would like every event at her library to have a collection bibliography attached – to connect people to the collection.
    • Connection to deeper reading of Australian Stories by Australian authors in visual & written media.
    • Libraries are being used for longer hours for work & study. How are public spaces used? What are you doing to welcome people to your library space?
    • Community Development Skills/ Engagement Skills: Understanding who is using the library & who is not.
    • Doing more co-design work by going out into the community asking the community what they want to see.
    • Adding Deadly Collections . (Yarra Plenty Regional Library co-design Deadly Collections with local First Nations communities).
    • Talking to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities.


    Q8. How do you make Public Library collections accessible and inclusive in person and online?

    • Makerspaces
    • Collections are going outside the library: Self check hubs,  Open plus (communities are visiting the library after hours)
    • E-collections are getting bigger. Gen Z and under prefer reading physical pages than read online in long form reading)
    • Working with Vision Australia to make Braille books in libraries
    • Text to Speach will change things. How will voice to text work with an app & Library Management System? When our Library Management Systems do not respond to voice.
    • Libby App has accessibility features for Autism and dyslexia.

    Q9: Do you have a particular place to find professional reading?

    Q10: Thoughts on Public Libraries using Tik Tok and Instagram for engagement?

    • If you are applying for a job make sure you follow them on social media. (Use this tip for Academic Libraries, TAFE Libraries, Health, Law and Specialist Libraries (Gallery, Museum, Archives, Records)
    • Follow what events they are doing. (A good place to see how active they are on social media)
    • Google search to see if the Public Library are on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, Twitter/X, Tik-Tok, YouTube, LinkedIn or have a blog. Tip: The Public Library may post different library news to different platforms.
    • Learn and have a go at making an Instagram Reel
    • Practice your social media skills. Have a Test, Try and Learn approach.
    • Understand what audience uses for platform and what content they engage with.

    Q11: Do you have any advice for Librarians wanting to move into management positions within the industry?

    • If there are management roles and you are a professional librarian apply for them. Less people go for manager positions.
    • Key thing to know you are managing people & people can have different moods.
    • Highlight your people management skills


    Q12: Thoughts about Public Libraries talking about social media accountability, Photo credit and adding ALT-Text to images ? (Website, blog, Instagram, Twitter/X, Facebook)

    • Public Libraries have social media training on copyright and Creative Commons.
    • If you post content to a library blog you can be asked to take it down
    • PublicLibraries have media literacy training for students and the community
    • Can you licence work under creative commons so people can use it with attribution
    • Libraries will use their own images and have photo releases.

    Q13:  What are your thoughts about Thought Leadership?

    • You may be a Thought Leader on a specific topic
    • We have a responsibility to share knowledge
    • Share resources and thoughts on a blog post or article
    • You have the experience. Search out that experience.
    •  Really think deeply about that topic or aspect about libraries you are trying to change or deliver. How people approach work.
    • Jane recommends we all should start writting our blog posts. What is your experience?  Remember don’t whinge! Write about what you learned.
    • Join ALIA CPD Scheme to practice writing your learning reflections

    Part 4:  Your Public Library Q&A

    Ryan (ALIASNGG Social Media Coordinator Twitter/X)

    Q14: Advice on proving to Public Libraries that you have people management experience in libraries?

    • What teams have you worked in and led
    • What Projects have you led?
    • Have you led the delivery of a project? Because you are managing people in that situation. Allocating tasks, making sure you are on track.
    • Have you done any performance management?  If you havn’t talk to your supervisor. Let them know this is where I want to go. How can I do this?
    • How can I have acting opportunity experience to build this skill set?
    • If you are on the desk are you the senior librarian managing people on the floor – that’s managing people
    • Had to call over and chat to staff about there interaction with someone – performance management (gave feedback privately)
    • Assisted a person who was having difficulties supporting them to get the skills is people management skills.
    • Have you debriefed a person in a difficult situation. Think about how you work with the team and took the lead.

    Emily Wilson asked a question from the chat from Fatema.

    Q15 Fatema Question : Would like to know more about the vendors and suppliers side of libraries?

    • Vendors and supliers are governed by contract.
    • Back of house Public Library teams will work with them for acquisition
    • Skills needed are knowlege of publishing industry Eg. Book Suppliers & Collection Suppliers
    • Vendors like Raeco (Library furniture supliers)
    • Be relationship focused. Know their language

    Q16. Thoughts on Public Library Fines?

    • Most public libraries have removed library fines. Those who still do have problems with  their budget. Libraries have not need to rework their budgets. Not think of fines as revenue.
    • Statistics show rich people pay fines and poor people don’t come into libraries because they are affraid of fines.
    • Think of removing fines for childrens collections

    Q17: Advice on Managing volunteers?

    • Managing volunteers does count as experience and people management experience
    • Particuly if you have had to deal with difficult situations with volunteers.

    In in terms of recruitment in your selection criteria keep it short.

    • Show examples of how your skills have been used.
    • If you get to the interview. Have 5 additional examples not already used in your selection criteria. Selection pannel has already read about them.
    • If you don’t get shortlisted it is OK to call for feedback
    • Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result).
    • ALIA Members can use ALIA SNGG Resume Review Service to review your resumes (3 times a year for FREE) and have feedback on ways to improve the resume. Ask about Selection Criteria and how to address Selection Criteria for Public Library role.

    Q18: Advice on admin skills in Public Libraries?

    • Admin skills are important in back & frount Public Library roles
    • Even if you are in a  lower level managing events. You need admin skills to keep the project management on track.
    • It is about records keeping and records management and following policies

    Q19: Thoughts about ALIA New Generation Advisory Committe (NGAC)  Mandetory Employment Requirements in the Library and Information Service  barriers to getting library jobs because of licences and drivers licences? Recomendations for students & graduates who see the perfect library job but don’t have a drivers licence or licence?

    • Map out how to travel to each library location
    • You can say there is good public transport and have worked out how to get to that place

    Q20: Mia Question: How should I reach out to public libraries regarding work experience as a student?

    • Work with your institution. They need to reach out to the library.
    • Contact the lirary and ask what the forms are.
    • Look broadly. Some libraries will have a long waiting list from students  or short availability to host students for work experience.
    • Look outside of your local area. Can you get to the place by driving or transport.
    • Think about the area of the library you want experience from Eg. Collections, Rare book collections, Digitisations, Reader development, events, community development, social media.

    Q21: Thoughts on Public Library Health Checks in PD?

    • A council requirement. As you will be lifting, bending and standing. Public Libraries are a physical job.
    • You don’t need to do a marathon to be a Public Librarian.
    • Simply a check to see you can stand & lift.


    Reminder by Rhodora at the end of the chat that ALIA Students and New Graduates Group #GLAMRmatch event is back in 2024! Anyone seeking one-on-one feedback from a GLAMR professional. Students, Graduates, Established and Early Carer Professionals are encouraged to join.  EOIs go out in early May.



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